Workplace culture and strong internal relationships are undeniably critical for your company's long-term success. Focusing your efforts on employee relations, and cultivating good relationships between employers and employees can help your Human Resources department mitigate conflict, build trust between team members, and decrease turnover rates.
If the term ‘employee relations’ makes you furrow your brows in confusion, we’re here to help. We’ll explain what employee relations is and why it’s important below.
What is employee relations?
Employee relations is a branch of human resources that deals with policies regarding your employees' relationships with their employers, and each other.
Essentially, employee relations is any effort or programming a company implements to ensure their employees are treated fairly, feel safe, and are happy in their work environment. Additionally, employee relations cannot be successful unless employees feel there is a level of transparency from management.
Employee Relations Examples
Employee relations programming will vary from one company to the next, however, the issues they tackle are very similar. That said, there are a few common categories most fall under:
1. Unsafe Work Environment
Employers are tasked with providing a safe work environment for employees. If an employee is injured on the job or has an accident, the employer may be liable. Having safety protocols in place and communicating them to the team is a must.
2. Employee Performance
It’s not a fun conversation to have, but there will come a time when an employee’s performance is not up to company standards. Employee relations teams and managers may be tasked with creating a program to address underperformance to get employees back on track.
3. Pay Raises and Promotions
Employee relations may also be involved with career growth and development programs. They are often tasked with making sure pay and promotion guidelines are transparent and communicated properly so employees know what to expect.
4. Sexual Harassment
Employee relations may also work with HR to develop and implement policies surrounding sexual harassment and other forms of abuse. If you’ve ever taken a harassment course at work, chances are it was made possible by the employee relations team.
5. Conflicts Between Workers
While co-workers don't have to be best friends, it’s important everyone treats each other with respect. Employee relations teams can establish conflict resolution and mediation frameworks to help employees resolve issues in a respectful manner.
6. Diversity and Inclusion
Diversity and inclusion programs allow employees to bring their whole selves to work. Employee relations teams are responsible for coming up with D&I policies and providing employees with the tools they need to create an environment where everyone feels welcome.
Employee Relations Best Practices
Riley Stefano, a Culture Content Creator at HubSpot, explains employee relations like this:
"At its core, employee relations is about trust and transparency. But that doesn’t just happen overnight — you have to build it. And every department, team, manager, and leader is responsible for building and adding to that culture of trust and transparency. In People Operations, we strive to create remarkable experiences for employees throughout their time at HubSpot so that they can do their best work and help HubSpot grow better."
How can you ensure your employees can do their best work? By providing them with a work environment where they can thrive. Here are a few best practices to keep employee relations positive.
1. Encourage open dialog.
Employees should feel safe giving feedback, asking questions, and fleshing out ideas. This requires establishing trust. Instead of just saying “we welcome dialogue,” practice it.
Host a Q&A with team leadership and key stakeholders. Using anonymous surveys is also a great tool for getting honest feedback. Empower employees to ask for clarification and share ideas during meetings.
2. Establish a career development program.
When people feel like they have agency in the workplace and control of their career path, companies are more likely to retain them. According to LinkedIn employees that get a new role internally are 3.5x more likely to be engaged and those who participate in Learning and Development programs stay nearly 2x longer than those who do not.
3. Encourage and facilitate a work-life balance.
Work-life balance is a popular corporate catch-phrase, but how many workplaces actually embrace it? This doesn’t mean you have to offer unlimited paid leave, although that is a generous perk.
Facilitating work-life balance can look like:
- Offering a more flexible schedule.
- Not sending urgent emails outside of established work hours.
- Discouraging working after business hours and unpaid overtime.
- Respecting employee vacation time.
- Monitor scheduling and workloads to help prevent overwork.
Implementing these small changes will help your employees prevent burnout and make them more productive.
4. Embrace core values and company culture.
Keeping the company mission and values at the forefront of all initiatives will help create cohesive messaging in addition to promoting a sense of belonging. Employees will feel a sense of camaraderie knowing that everyone is working toward the same goal.
5. Lead with empathy.
As a core component of HubSpot’s culture code, empathy is a strength. It’s not just an important attribute for external business needs, but internally with your coworkers as well. Approaching employee relations from the perspective of an employee will help you develop programs and policies that are more effective.
Stefano adds, "To cultivate strong employee relations, we have to have empathy. We have to listen, share information, take feedback seriously, and adapt with our employees to maintain long-lasting and trustworthy relationships with all of our employees globally."
How to Implement Programming
At HubSpot, employee relations includes utilizing HR Business Partners and implementing culture programming and events to help build stronger relationships with HubSpot employees.
However, employee relations programming might look different at your company. Perhaps your employee relations efforts include ensuring a good work-life balance for employees, or giving each employee stock in the company, so they are treated as stakeholders in the business.
Alternatively, perhaps you hire an employee relations manager to provide guidance on new and existing contracts and policies so that you can ensure each employee is treated fairly and feels safe in the workplace. Perhaps your employee relations manager can also gather employee feedback, and use it to create new benefits packages that incentivize and properly reward employees for their hard work.
It's critical you take the time and effort to ensure you've cultivated strong relationships between employers and employees. If your employees respect leadership, they're more likely to work harder, communicate better, and feel more engaged at work. All of these things can motivate employees to go above and beyond in their roles.
Positive Employee Relations is Key to Success
Ultimately, a company can't be successful unless there's a universal alignment of vision, goals, and purpose between employers and employees — and that alignment doesn't happen naturally. It must be cultivated, in large part through strategic employee relations efforts.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in January 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.